“It’s better to be lucky than good..”

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My home base is Salinas Municipal Airport in California. It’s a smaller airport and is unusual only in as much as it is Class D. Like most smaller airports, it has coffee shop come restaurant in the a terminal building. The food is good, the staff are nice and it’s a great place to hang out after flying, waiting for the weather to clear or even just to chat with other more experienced pilots and yes almost everyone is more experienced than I am....

So there I am having coffee staring at the large model of a P-47 Thunderbolt hanging from the ceiling, lollygagging. From the table next to me a voice said do you know what it is?

I turned in my seat and introduce myself to an older gentleman, Bob (Name changed) and answered his question, yes I said it’s a Republic Thunderbolt or P47.

Very good he replied do you know what its nickname was?

The Jug!

Right again he reply, do you know why?

Got me, I have no idea I replied.

It was nicknamed the juggernaut, jug for short because it was unstoppable. I flew one during the Second World War.

My interest peeked; I asked, really, how interesting, when and where?

He smiled and said, I trained in the US and was then shipped off to the Torch Landings.

So you were in North Africa? I asked

You know about that he replied

We almost came second in that war, so we have to learn about it at school, so yes I know about the Torch landings. I encouaged him to continue.

Well I was flying my Jug and fighting the Germans in North Africa and..

At this point his friend, Bill (Name changed) another older gentleman sitting at the same table butted in and said “tell him the truth Bob” followed by “he wasn’t very good at it, he got shot down and captured didn’t he”

It was truly hard not to giggle, Bob ignored the comment and kept going with his story. So after I was shot down and captured I was given to the Luftwaffe and shipped to southern France where they put me in a Luftwaffe prison camp. It wasn’t so bad because it was on the edge of an airfield, but I decided I had to escape.

I duely did and pinched a German airoplane. I took off and headed toward Northern France where the Allies had landed. I got quite far north and was starting to worry about being shotdown again as I was flying a German airoplane when...

At this point his friend Bill butted in again and said, “and he crashed that one as well”

Several people were now listen to Bob tell his story and there were several strangled laughs, it was very funny to see this hero sitting in front of us being harassed by his friend putting a funny spin on serious events.

I encouraged him to go on.

Well I did crash the German airoplane because I couldn't work out how to put the landing gear down. So he’s right I did crash that one as well.

Bob was very modest so I asked “so I guess you were quite the celebrity at this point, did you get a medal?

No they decided I’d done my part and sent me back to the States

Yet again Bill butted in a said, “they decide that he wasn’t safe in an American or German aircraft because he’d wrecked both and they couldn’t afford anymore crashes or they’d have to stop the war”

The people sitting at the other tables were howling with laugher and even Bob smiled. I chatted somemore about how lucky he been and he seemed to think it was nothing, he was very modest about the whole thing, so I figure I know at least one real hero- Bob.

I’m always reminded of a comment one of my friends makes in these situations, yes he’s another pilot, and it seems like a perfect comment to end on. I don’t know if Bob was good, I’d think so given he to managed to fly a German airoplane, but he’s definitely lucky, a little too private and modest to share his name, but definitely lucky.

So Bob, it’s better to be lucky than good…

Mike Wardley, 2006.

Copyright © Mike Wardley, 2007